Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When Is Color Better?

Room 7 - Rosamond, California
In my last post I explained that if color isn't important to an image, it should be converted to black-and-white. If color is an essential element to a photograph, it should remain in color. When is color "essential" to an image? What makes color in a photograph work? Those are questions that I hope to answer here.

There are a number of color theories in photography, and the more one studies this the more convoluted it becomes. But there are some basic ideas that seem to work.

One idea that works is color contrast. If you look at a color wheel, the colors that are on opposite sides of each other are contrasting colors. Red and green are contrasting colors, as are blue and yellow/orange. Contrasting colors are bold when placed against each other. 
Shoot Me - Newberry Springs, California
Another idea is complimentary colors. If you draw a "Y" on a color wheel, the three colors at the points of the "Y" are complimentary colors. A complimentary color combination is typically more subtle than contrasting colors, but it can be just as effective.

Also, if an image lacks light contrast, sometimes it works better in color than monochrome. If the image is toned a bit flat, it can be difficult to get the subject to stand out in black-and-white. If there are different colors to separate the elements within the frame, sometimes it just works better in color.

I think, more simply, trust your gut. If you think that an image would be good in color, it probably will be. When you make the decision for the photograph to be color, be sure to compose the image in such a way to take full advantage of the color. Make the color obvious. Try to find vibrant colors.

It is important to make the decision of whether or not an image will be in color prior to exposing the frame. If you wait until after the shutter has been opened, you've lost your opportunity to take full advantage of your choice.

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